Marie Antoinette and her children (at Versailles)

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Marie Antoinette and her children
(at Versailles) –
This is one of the last portraits that Vigee Le Brun painted of the doomed queen. The picture shows Marie Therese Charlotte de France, Madame Royale, and her brother, Louis-Joseph, Le Dauphin, standing. Louis-Joseph died of natural causes early in the year that the revolution began. The next younger child, Louis-Charles, Duc de Normandie, shown on the Queen's lap, then became the second Dauphin. After his father had been guillotined he became known as Louis XVII. This Louis may have been murdered, or may have died of other causes while imprisoned in the temple. In another theory it was thought he may have survived after being exchanged for another sickly child. In April 2000 it was proved by DNA analysis that the body of a boy found in a temple was in fact the body of Louis XVII. He died of malnutrition and neglect. The empty cradle is a reference to Princess Sophie, who was born and died in 1786. This painting still hangs at Versailles.

Caroline Murat and her daughter
Caroline Murat and her daughter - 1805-08
oil on canvas, 217 x 143 cm, Versailles

Napoleon's youngest sister, Caroline, Queen of Naples, lived 1782-1839. In 1800 she married Joachim Murat (1767-1815), a brilliant cavalry officer who had served in many campaigns with Napoleon. In 1808, Murat succeeded Joseph Bonaparte as King of Naples. The couple had two sons and two daughters (Letizia, born 25 April 1802, died 12 March 1859 and Louise, born 22 march 1805, died 1 December 1889). Letizia is pictured here. Letizia was named for the mother of Caroline and Napoleon. "(Napoleon) Bonaparte commissioned me to paint a portrait of his sister, Mme Murat. I included Mme Murat's daughter in the painting, a very pretty girl".

Daughters of Paul I of Russia - 1796
Oil on canvas, 99cm x 99cm
Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Alexandra Pavlovna (1783-1801) on the left and her younger sister Yelena Pavlovna (1784-1803) were the daughters of Paul I and Maria Fyodorovna. Alexandra married the Palatine of Hungary in 1799. Yelena married the heir to the duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin the same year. According to Vigee Le Brun, Catherine the Great (their grandmother) did not like the original portrait costumes and colors, and she revised it. However, radiography only revealed a change in the position of Yelena's left hand (which had been around her sister's waist). Thus, it would appear that Vigee Le Brun repainted the portrait, rather than merely revising the costumes. The artist was paid 3,000 Rubles for this portrait.

Laure de Bonneuil, Comtesse Regault Saint Jean d´Angely - 1805
oil on panel, 116 x 86 cm
Laure de Bonneuil (1775-1857) was the wife of the French statesman Michel Louis Etienne Regnault de Saint Jean d´Angely (1762-1819), who was the Conseiller d´Etat under the Consulat, Secretaire d´Etat to the Imperial family in 1810, and Ministre d´Etat under Napoleon in 1814. This painting sold at a Sothebys Old Masters auction in 1996 for $52,000 to a private collector.

Dauphin Louis XVII - 1789
oil on canvas, The Louvre
Attributed to Vigee Le Brun.
Le Dauphin Louis Charles jouant à painted with a yo - yo which is also known as a l'émigrette. According to yo-yo experts this may be the first painting that includes a yo-yo. The modern yo-yo was introduced at about this time.

Empress Maria Fedorovna - 1800
oil on canvas
The portrait in the Hermitage is 2.9m x 2.1 m, (114" x 82")
This is believed to be an oil study for a larger painting.

Empress Maria Fedorovna, consort of Paul I painted a full length portrait of her wearing her court costume and a diamond coronet "I placed the Empress in front of a large crimson velvet curtain... I hurried to finish the full length portrait of the Empress Maria, as well as several smaller paintings of her, and I left for Moscow on 15 October 1800." Born Princess Sophie Dorothea of Wurttemberg, lived 1759-1828. Angelica Goodden, in The Sweetness of Life, p. 188, writes: The huge state portrait, today rolled up in the Hermitage reserve and unseen for decades, shows Paul's wife sumptuously dressed, and wearing the insignia of the orders of St Andrew and St Catherine and a diamond crown. On the table are maps of the Smolnyi Institute, created by Catherine for the education of the young girls.

Self Portrait-1790
oil on canvas, 100 cm x 81 cm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
In 1789 Vigee Le Brun fled France to save her head. The first stop was Italy where she was welcomed like a head of state. At Florence she was asked to paint her portrait for the celebrated collection of portraits of famous artists by their own hand at the Uffizi gallery. Vigee Le Brun started the self portrait while in Florence but finished it in Rome.The self portrait in Florence is of the most exquisite heads she ever painted, sunny, smiling, happy, and youthful. The painting on the easel is of marie Antoinette done from memory.

Copy of Self Portrait -1790
Oil on canvas. The Earl of Bristol met Vigee in Naples, Italy. Captivated by her beauty, he commissioned her to paint
his portrait. He further requested her to make a copy of her own portrait being completed for the Uffizi. In this portrait the face on the canvas depicts her daughter Julie who traveled with her and who she called "Brunette. Both paintings are at Ickworth, Suffolk.

Woman's Head

Charcoal and coloured chalk on blue paper, 479 x 405 mm

École des Beaux-Arts, Paris

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This picture, showing the head of an attractive woman, made by the then greatly esteemed portrait painter Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, recalls the Rococo. In pastel - a popular medium in the 18th century - the artist modeled the laurel-wreath head of an allegorical figure of peace over a preparatory drawing in black chalk. The work was intended as a study for a painting (La paix ramenant l'Abondance). While the theme and technique are conventional, the flattened composition and the idealized beauty of the head with its cool lustrous and porcelain-like skin tones correspond to Classicist ideas.

Mademoiselle Brongniart - 1788
Oil on oak, 65.1 x 53.3 cm.
The National Gallery, London

Alexandrine-Emilie (1780-1847) was the daughter of the architect Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart. Brogniart was a friend of Vigee Le Brun who briefly took refuge in his Paris house during the turbulent autumn of 1789. She was married to Louis-André, Baron Pichon. View a detail of this image. The painting was passed to a son of the sitter, Jérôme Pichon (1812-1896); bequeathed by Sir Bernard Eckstein, 1948. Vigee Le Brun also painted Brongniart's other daughter.

Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat

after 1782

Oil on canvas, 98 x 70 cm
National Gallery, London

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The daughter and pupil of a minor Parisian painter, Louis Vigée, Madame Vigée-Lebrun was an attractive and charming woman, who specialised in the attractive and charming portrayal of women and children while remaining a competent portraitist of men. Eighteenth-century notions of graceful spontaneity may strike twentieth-century viewers as arch or sentimental; nevertheless, she pioneered a new style. Her fashionable portraits in the simplified dress called à la grecque dispense with Baroque props of columns or curtains to demonstrate 'natural' manners and feelings, anticipating the Neo-classical portraits of David.

Madame Vigée-Lebrun fled the French Revolution in 1789, avoiding the fate of her most illustrious patron, Queen Marie-Antoinette, to become an international success in the capitals of Europe. She returned to her native city after the Restoration in 1814 and gave an account of her early life and later tribulations and triumphs in the highly readable, if unreliable, Memoirs published in 1835.

The painter Claude Joseph Vernet, she recalls, advised her to study the Italian and Flemish masters but above all to follow nature. This picture is an autograph replica of a self portrait painted in Brussels in 1782 which wittily records her admiration of a famous Flemish masterpiece, Rubens's Portrait of Susanna Lunden, known as the 'Chapeau de Paille'. '[Its] great effect', she wrote, 'resides in the two different kinds of illumination which simple daylight and the light of the sun create...This painting...has inspired me to the point that I made my own search of the same effect.'

The bright gleam and the general radiance of direct and reflected outdoor light as represented in Rubens's picture are indeed carefully noted, but Madame Vigée-Lebrun takes care also to record her debt to nature. She shows herself in the open against a cloud-flecked sky, and - not surprisingly since she is both sitter and painter - as almost a personification of the art of painting. For this fictitious excursion into the fields, but also to demonstrate her powers of observation, she wears a genuine chapeau de paille, unlike Rubens's sitter whose hat is actually made of beaver felt. To the dashing ostrich feather she has added a wreath of freshly picked rustic flowers. Her hair is her own, not a wig, and is left unpowdered. Where Susanna Lunden modestly crosses her arms above her waist and peers out from below her hat, Madame Vigée-Lebrun extends her unaffected friendship to the viewer. Most natural of all, however, is her charming bosom. For unlike Rubens's beauty, whose breasts are moulded by her tight corset, Madame Vigée-Lebrun lets it plainly be seen in her low décolletage that she has no need of such artifice.

Madame Perregaux

Oil on panel, 100 x 79 cm

Wallace Collection, London

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Madame Perregaux was the wife of a Parisian banker whose clients included the third Marquess of Hertford and the artist herself. The painting was bought by the fourth Marquess of Hertford to the present Wallace Collection.

Vigée-Lebrun, ravished by the charm of her own appearance, and hardly able to paint a male sitter, continued the 18th century's cult of women. In Vigée-Lebrun we have the last view of eighteen-century woman - who had begun as a goddess, became a courtesan, and now ended all heart - before Napoleon and War banished her from the centre of events.


The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis

Oil on canvas, 87 x 103 cm

Private collection

Welcome to the Web Gallery of Art! Please enter here to visit the collection.

In 1818 David painted The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis, a story of true lovers forced to part. Telemachus, son of Penelope and Odysseus, and Eucharis, one of the nymphs of the goddess Calypso, had an intense physical passion for one another but still remained pure and chaste because this physical love expressed a higher, spiritual love. Telemachus stares out at us with an expression of regret and sadness at his departure, while Eucharis throws her arms around her lover's neck, making the most of their last moments together.

The Oath of the Horatii

Oil on canvas, 330 x 425 cm

Musée du Louvre, Paris

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David owed his rise to fame - after many reversals - to a painting for the execution of which he took his family to Rome, in order to absorb himself totally in the world of antique forms. It was The Oath of the Horatii.

When he arrived to Rome, David rent a studio in the Via del Babuino. He worked in a very methodical manner on The Oath of the Horatii, drawing from life models and draped mannequins, and some very detailed studies survive for many of the main figures. He had accessories such as the swords and helmets made by local craftsmen so that they could serve as props. Drouais is supposed to have assisted David, painting the arm of the rear Horatii brother and the yellow garment of Sabina. The painting was finished at the end of July 1785, and was then exhibited in David's studio. David signed the painting and added the painting's place of origin to the signature and date: L David / faciebat / Romanae /Anno MDCCLXXXIV. The painting created a sensation, even the Pope wanted to view it.

The story is from the 7th century B.C., and it tells of the triplet sons of Publius Horatius, who decided the struggle between Rome and Albalonga. One survived, but he killed his own sister because she wept for one of the fallen foes, to whom she was betrothed. Condemned to death for the murder of a sibling, Horatius' son is pardoned by the will of the people.

Because of its austerity and depiction of dutiful patriotism, The Oath of the Horatii is often considered to be the clearest expression of Neoclassicism in painting. The painting's uncompromising directness, economy and tension made it instantly memorable and full of visual impact. Each of the three elements of the picture - the sons, the father and the women - is framed by a section of a Doric arcade, and the figures are located in a narrow stage-like space. David split the picture between the masculine resolve of the father and brothers and the slumped resignation of the women.. The focal point of the work is occupied by the swords that old Horatius is about to distribute to his sons. While the rear two brothers take the oath with their left hands, the foremost one swears with his right. Perhaps David did this simply as a way of grouping the figures together, but people at the time noticed this detail, and some supposed that this meant that the brother in the front would be the one to survive the combat.

The Death of Marat

Oil on canvas, 162 x 128 cm

Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

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This painting can be regarded as David's finest work, in which he has perfectly succeeded in immortalizing a contemporary political event as an image of social ideals. David's painting of Marat represents the peak of his involvement in the Revolution where invention, style, fervent belief and devotion combine to produce one of the most perfect examples of political painting. David presented the painting to the Convention on 14 November 1793.

Jean-Paul Marat saw himself as a friend of the people, he was a doctor of medicine and a physicist, and above all he was editor of the news-sheet Ami du peuple. He suffered from a skin disease and had to perform his business for the revolution in a soothing bath. This is where David shows him, in the moment after the pernicious murder by Charlotte Corday, a supporter of the aristocracy. David had seen his fellow party member and friend the day before. Under the impact of their personal friendship David created his painting "as if in a trance," as one of his pupils later reported.

David takes the viewer into Marat's private room, making him the witness of the moments immediately after the murder. Marat's head and arm have sunk down, but the dead hand still holds pen and paper. This snapshot of exactly the minute between the last breath and death in the bathroom had an immense impact at the time, and it still has the same effect today.

David has used a dark, immeasurable background to intensify the significance. The boldness of the high half of the room above the figure concentrates attention on the lowered head, and makes us all the more aware of the vacuum that has been created. The distribution of light here has been reversed from the usual practice, with dark above light. This is not only one of the most moving paintings of the time, but David has also created a secularised image of martyrdom. The painting has often, and rightly, been compared with Michelangelo's Pietà in Rome; in both the most striking element is the arm hanging down lifeless. Thus David has unobtrusively taken over the central image of martyrdom in Christianity to his image of Marat. Revolutionary and anti-religious as the painting of this period claimed to be, it is evident here that it very often had recourse to the iconography and pictorial vocabulary of the religious art of the past.

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I (detail)

Oil on canvas

Musée du Louvre, Paris

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David had originally intended to portray the event faithfully, showing Napoleon crowning himself. The Emperor, remembering the quarrels between the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire, placed the crown on his own head to avoid giving a pledge of obedience of the temporal power to the Pontiff. But he evidently felt that it would not be desirable to perpetuate this somewhat disrespectful action in paint; so David painted the coronation of Josephine by Napoleon, with the Pope blessing the Empress.

Grouped round the altar, near Napoleon, are the chief dignitaries — Cambécères, the Lord Chancellor, Marshal Berthier, Grand Veneur, Talleyrand, the Lord Chamberlain, and Lebrun, the Chief Treasurer. Madame de la Rochefoucauld carries the Empress's train; behind her are the Emperor's sisters, and his brothers Louis and Joseph. In front of the central stand are some of the marshals, and in it is Marie Laetitia, Madame Mère (the Emperor's mother), who was in fact not present at the ceremony.

Napoleon in his Study

Oil on canvas, 204 x 125 cm

National Gallery of Art, Washington

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David did paint Napoleon once more, in 1812, but this commission came from a most unexpected source. Britain and France had been at war since 1803 but such was the emperor's fame that a Scottish aristocrat, Alexander Douglas, later Duke of Hamilton, paid David the enormous sum of 1,000 guineas (18,650 francs) for a full-length portrait. This was not Napoleon the athletic and heroic warrior, but Napoleon the statesman and lawgiver who, as the burnt-down candle and the clock with a time of 4-13 am show, works far into the night for the benefit of his subjects. A scroll of paper in the bureau bears the word 'Code", which refers to the new Civil Code, actually in operation since 1804 but which was renamed the 'Code Napoleon' in 1807 in an obvious propaganda move to promote him as a legislator. In the portrait the emperor has evidently just stopped work and, as the sword on the chair indicates, now prepares to review the troops wearing the uniform of a colonel of the Foot Grenadier Guards.

Although he did not pay for it, Napoleon liked the picture and said: 'You have found me out, dear David; at night I work for my subjects' happiness, and by day I work for their glory.'

Portrait of Pope Pius VII

Oil on canvas, 86 x 71 cm

Musée du Louvre, Paris

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While Pope Pius VII remained in Paris after the consecration, David also painted his portrait and thereby joined an illustrious band of past artists - Raphael, Titian and Velázquez - as the painter of a pontiff. David broke with protocol by sitting down while he worked, as previously tradition had dictated that the humble artist should kneel to paint the Pope. David, though, did appreciate the honour bestowed upon him and apparently put on fine clothes and wore a sword as he worked. He responded warmly to the venerable old pontiff and was both delighted and moved by the benediction that he received from the hand of Pius.

St Roch Asking the Virgin Mary to Heal Victims of the Plague

Oil on wood, 260 x 195 cm

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille

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David's first independent commission was for an altarpiece for the chapel of the Lazaret (or quarantine centre) in Marseille, France's major Mediterranean port, and a place that lived in continual fear of contagion brought by travellers from the East. The picture was to commemorate a miraculous episode from the 1720 outbreak of the disease in the city when the fourteenth-century saint, who had suffered from the plague himself, reappeared and came to the aid of the sick.

David had tried to combine a depiction of a miracle, a visionary Baroque subject constructed according to the traditional rules, with the new manner of representation, which was no longer appropriate for the traditional approach. His clear neoclassical colouring, the evidently measurable proportions of the bodies, and the overall metrical construction all reveal the painful inability to combine on one level the earthly and the heavenly, the real story of the plague and its victim, with the historically intangible figures of the salvation. The painting is beautiful, but the realistic depiction of the suffering figures is much more moving for the viewer than is the Madonna, who is concerned with the child and not the pleading figure. The real and present suffering looks credible, but the religious aspect is no longer convincing. Paintings like this documented the end of religious painting for a long time.

The Intervention of the Sabine Women

Oil on canvas, 385 x 522 cm

Musée du Louvre, Paris

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David, the political activist, was imprisoned in 1794. He survived the political change, and while still in prison planned a return to history painting and started work on The Intervention of Sabine Women, a project that was to occupy him until 1799. This subject, from ancient Rome, was the aftermath of the rape of the Sabines when, to ensure the population growth of their city, Romulus and his Romans abducted the womenfolk of their neighbours, the Sabines. Three years passed before the Sabine men, led by Tatius, mounted a counterattack. For the first time in a history painting by David, the central figure is a woman, Hersilia, who forces herself between Romulus, her husband, on the right, and the Sabine Tatius, her father, on the left. Other women cling to the warriors and place themselves and their children between the opposing groups.

In this painting David contrasted the violence of the rape with the pacification of the intervention. The image of family conflict in the Sabines was a metaphor of the revolutionary process which had now culminated in peace and reconciliation. The painting was a tribute to Madame David, and a recognition of the power of women as peacemakers.

Portrait of the Artist

Oil on canvas, 81 x 64 cm

Musée du Louvre, Paris

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Having painted relatively few works during the Revolution, David worked with great energy while in prison, possibly using painting as an escape and as tangible evidence that he was a painter and not a politician. A pupil brought painting equipment and materials as well as a mirror which enabled him to paint his second self-portrait.Less agitated than his first effort, in this painting David stares out with a mixture of bewilderment and candour, brush and palette in hand, the tumour in his left cheek very prominent. (Because it was painted with the aid of a mirror, the swollen cheek appears on the right due to the inversion that accompanies a mirror image.) He appears younger than his forty-six years - a characteristic of not only his self-portraits but also some of his portraits.

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